One year after the closure of the Balkan Route – One year after the EU-Turkey Deal – Six years after the halt of Dublin returns to Greece: 62,000 and more refugees are stuck in limbo in Greece merely able to survive
Two days ago, two squats in Athens got attacked and raided by Greek police on March 13, 2017. In one of the squats 127 refugees were hosted. This repressive measure comes one year after the closure of the Balkan Route when more than 57,000 refugees got trapped in Greece and were transferred in provisory tent camps without any assistance, which were set up ad hoc over the night were run in the majority of cases by the army. It is a period where still 23,000-30,000 refugees have no adequate housing but stay under inhuman conditions in state run camps – some of which still are in tents! Among them are hundreds of highly vulnerable people placed at the margins of Greek society without adequate support and any survival perspective on the long run.
On March 13th, the Athens police raided in the early morning hours two squats in the capital one of which in Alkiviadou Street (near Aharnon) was hosting more than 120 refugees since February, who all got apprehended. The other squat which got raided was “Villa Zografou”, an alternative social space and one of the oldest squats in Athens. More then 120 persons were arrested in Alkiviadou Squat and eight persons in Villa Zografou. After one day detention at the Central Aliens Police Departement Petrou Ralli only 31 got transferred to Skaramangas Camp. All the rest of the arrested refugees were left in the middle of the nights on the streets with anywhere to go, while the activists had been released quickly after the apprehension. Many of them are families and people with medical problems from Syria (according to activists there were two people diagnosed with diabetes, one pregnant woman, a man in a wheelchair and one woman who had recently had surgery on her back with severe pain). They finally found emergency housing in other squats and through volunteers. People who were arrested in the squats and who did not have papers, were taken to detention in Amygdaleza pre-removal detention centre where they will stay until their registration. In the meantime more than 1,500 people protested in the evening against the eviction of the two squats. The next day the refugees tried to pick up their belongings from piles outside of the evicted building in Alkiviadou but they were soon stopped by the police and their belongings got thrown in the garbage. Even documents or other important things like medicines got lost this way. The building which was squatted belongs to the Red Cross, which announced that they had planned to open a reception centre for unaccompanied minors there. Continue reading ‘No re-instalation of Dublin returns to Greece! Solidarity to all squats!’
Following a research visit in Elliniko on February 4th, Lia Gogou (researcher for Amnesty International in Greece and Cyprus) expressed her deep concern about the miserable conditions in Elliniko Camp and the lack of alternatives for refugees staying there.
“The refugees are stuck here since one year. Our researcher during their visit last Saturday documented big problems inthe sanitary infrastructure, the lack of fresh air and sufficient toilettes and showers. They saw people sleeping in tents, exposed to the cold and rain. Refugees themselves mentioned they were worried about the quality of the food and the limited access to hot water. Among people interviewed were highly vulnerable persons such as unaccompanied minor boys and single mothers. They said they were not feeling safe in the camp, and they were desperate due to bad living conditions and the lack of alternatives.”
Many Afghan refugees, of whom AI has taken interviews are excluded from the relocation scheme merely by their nationality and from family reunification as their relatives might not belong to the close definition of a family unit. There are many highly vulnerable refugees that should be legally moved with Humanitarian Visas to other EU-states as their survival cannot be secured in Greece.
During an antiracist rally that started from Victoria Square in the centre of Athens and passed the Greek Parliament to reach the Offices of the Representation of the European Commission in Greece, hundreds of antiracists along with many Afghan refugees demanded the opening of the border, protection and a safe passage instead of deportations. The Afghans came from different transit camps as Elliniko and Schisto.
In the past two weeks protests of refugees and supporters are growing over all of the country as the border to the Balkans was closed and thousands are stuck in Greece. From the Hot Spot in Moria, to the transit camp Schisto near Athens, Victoria Square, Thermoupolis, Kozani to Idomeni – people are standing up and demanding the opening of borders.
Solidarity is further sprouting in all over Greece with the sixth refugee housing squat opening yesterday in Athens at Kaningos / Kapodistriou in the centre of Athens. “open borders – open houses” it says on a banner outside the building.
Victoria Square – Refugees Welcome
One of the first squats which opened to host refugees was Notara 26 / Exarhia on 25. September 2015. In the former building of the insurance fund ETAM, which had been empty for years activists at first provided for 35 places. Meanwhile more than 120 are hosted there as needs grew rapidly. A priority is given to families and minors. Papers are not any matter to be accommodated. In the beginning refugees stayed 2-3 days only transiting Athens to move on to the Balkans fast. Nowadays with the Balkan corridor closed, refugees stay out much longer. Activists try to find longterm solutions for people hosted long time to be able and offer rooms also again to newcomers. The squat is running now for months with the support of activists and donations only.
Hot Spot Moria
In beginning of December Orfanotrofio (the orphanage) opened in Thessaloniki when more and more refugees got stuck in Idomeni at the border to FYROM following the limitation in allowing the border crossing only to Syrians, Iraqis and Afghans. Later on in February 18 also Afghans were not allowed anymore to cross until recently when the border was closed to all. The orphanage fits about 100 persons.
In Athens in January Themistokleous 58 / Exarhia opened with about 40 places. Another squat was established in Patrizia with about 18 places for refugees and in the end of February the gates of the famous Athens Polytechnikums were opened. The last available number of hosted refugees was 70. The number is growing.
“There is no food here. I want to go Germany, Denmark or Holland. I want to study sciences.”
Z., 12 years old unaccompanied minor from Afghanistan
“We know that here in Greece there is no help for us. There is no work. Greek people are jobless. I want to go to Germany because there they accept us.”
M., 15 years old unaccompanied minor from Afghanistan
Ellinikon has three spaces: the former airport, a hockey stadium and since today also a baseball field. Currently, there are about 4,000 refugees temporarily hosted there. Refugees there complain about the food in the camp: “Its expired. We had to buy ourselves food in order to give to our children, outherwise they would starve. Other people do not have the money though.” Meanwhile hundreds of unaccompanied minors remain unidentified in substandard mass reception centers as this one lacking any protection or special support.
“We cannot survive here! Please reopen the border! We have disabled people with us, babies, and pregnant women. In Greece there are no facilities!”, says Mohsen from Afghanistan. Sitting next to him in a wheelchair is his 85 year old father, who collapsed. Some meters away -on a blanket on the ground sits the rest of the 11-member family. They came from the city of Herat in Afghanistan. “Our plan is to go to Germany, to start a safe life there. But now I cannot think anymore. I am totally confused”, says Mohsen.
The famous Victoria Square where thousands of refugees all over the world passed the last years during their risky trip to northern Europe, looks like a war zone. Since last Sunday when the Western Balcans under the instructions of Austria decided to close the border for any refugees other than Syrians and Iraqis, this small square in the heart of Athens, is again the symbol of the failure of European migration policies. It shows in the most painful way how unprepared Europe was to this hugest refugee movement since second world war. More than 25,000 refugees were hemmed in Greece according to estimations on Saturday the 27th of February. All over Greece refugees sleep in parks, they are homeless heading on foot northwards. At the the same time, approximately, another 2,000-3,000 refugees arrive daily to Greece. Continue reading ‘“We cannot survive here!” – Refugees desperate to flee humanitarian crisis in Greece’
The borders along the Balkan Route are getting every day more militarized and difficult to cross for transit refugees in Greece. Since two months just protection seekers from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan can pass the greek-macedonian border near Idomeni. Refugees of other nationalities are therefore forced to chose hidden paths and try to go to Northern Europe with the help of smugglers using dangerous routes. Many of them actually get stuck in Greece under inhuman and degrading conditions due to a lack of money to continue their perilous journey. The country is unable to cope with the steady peak in number of arrivals – i.e. last year there were more than 860,000 coming to Greece. According to recent media reports, the EU plans to practically ‘fence’ Greece in order to stop the (safe) passage of refugees. Plans include the threat to kick Greece out of the Sengen Zone if the government doesn’t improve border controls. A closure of the border along the Balkan route would lead without doubt to a massive humanitarian crisis in Greece when thousands of refugees have to stay in limbo in a country without any infrastructure which is itself hit strongly by half a decade of economic crisis.
300 persons in a sit-in, more than 150 on hunger strike, 45 children, at least 9 collapsed, 8 days sit-in, 3 days hunger strike
In a bid for better living conditions, temporary working permits and medical care, more than 200 Syrians – among them many families with small children – fleeing the war-torn country and seeking asylum in the EU, have begun a hunger strike in Athens’ main square. Protesters began to gather on Syntagma Square on November 19, camping out and sleeping on cardboard boxes and in sleeping bags before staging the hunger strike on Monday. Dozens of Syrians are living homeless in the streets of Athens and Thessaloniki without any support. The demonstrators, many of who sat with masking tape covering their mouths, called for the Greek government find a way to solve the refugee crisis. Read their declaration:
SYRIAN REFUGGEES IN GREECE AT SYNTAGMA SQUARE
We are the Syrian refugees who are standing from 19 November 2014 outside of Greek Parliament in Athens at Syntagma square.
We started hunger strike on 24 of November.
We demand full asylum rights as refugees.
We escaped from death in Syria. We escaped from death passing the Aegean sea. We want to live with dignity in Europe.
Our demands are the following:
· Open the boarding gates by affording us proper travel documents to enable us to travel abroad, inside European Union.
· Support the Syrian refugees who are blocked in Greece. Book ships to transfer them to the countries which have already announced that they are ready to accept them.
· Support Syrian refugees with full rights of refugee which include: regular salaries, shelter, food, health insurance, education, reunification of their families, and work permit.
We call the Greek government to solve this issue immediately.
We appeal to Greek Parliament to support our case.
We appeal to Greek people for solidarity to our demand for full asylum rights.
On November 17th, 2014 hundreds of refugees detained administratively in the pre-removal centre of Amygdaleza started to protest massively against the prolonged detention of more than 18 months, against the detention of dozens of minors and the detention conditions that amongst others recently led to the death of two detainees.
“They coop us up here like sheep and then don’t care anymore about us. (…)”
“There are persons detained 26 months. (…)”
“When we say ‘my stomach hurts’, they’d answer ‘my balls hurt’.”
Only on November 6th the 26-year-old Mohammed Asfak died of the consequences of beating by law enforcement officers in Corinth detention centre during one of the uprisings of migrants there 5-6 months ago. His injuries had not been taken care of adequately. He was only transferred to hospital after a break down. For 15 days he had been begging the police to bring him to the hospital as he had respiratory problems. When asking for medical aid, police even replied: “Die, we don’t care.” Only some days after this tragic incident, another detainee from Bangladesh died of lacking sufficient medical aid.
Yesterday, on the third day of hunger strike the Movement against Racism and Fascist Threat (KEERFA) reported of 15 detainees who had been transferred to the hospital after fainting and 90% participation in the hunger strike. KEERFA furthermore said that the detainees chose to go on hunger strike on November 17 as a symbolic move because the particular date marks the 41st anniversary of the student uprising against the junta.
The Amygdaleza detention center is 10 kilometers away from Athens and it is supposed to hold 1,000 inmates. In October 2014, the number of detainees was 1,600. The facility has repeatedly come under serious criticism both due to the indefinite time of the detention of migrants and refugees, as well as the squalid conditions they are held in. Among the approximately 1,600 detainees are many vulnerable groups such as 15-year-old children, asylum seekers, de facto refugees such as Syrians and other nationalities whose deportation is not feasible according to UNHCR such as Eritreans. There are also persons with close relatives in other EU-member states awaiting family reunification, victims of torture who have never been identified by the authorities and sick persons.
“We will fight until freedom”, an underage refugee declared, who has been registered as adult.
... is like a “paper boat”. We chose this as a metaphor for what we want to create and for the situation of refugees and migrants in Greece. The paper boat is a folded boat able to swim – for a while. Then you have to build a new one to go on travelling. A paper boat is symbolic for the journey of life, vulnerable but in your own hands and to be recreated again and again. It is simple, but it carries many hopes and dreams. It can dance on a turbulent sea. It belongs to everybody. And it might become the small version – like a first draft – of a welcome-space.
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